Bombs are falling over Baghdad. This was the imagery that my brother called to my mind this morning when I skyped him to share my sympathies about the passing of Amendment 1 in North Carolina. My brother and I had fought long and hard trying to prevent the war in Iraq, as best as any simple citizen could. We had organized teach-ins, helped to found anti-war groups and student organizations, had even put on a rally for peace and non-violence on The Mall in Washington DC, my home at the time. For nine months I was active every day to call attention to the mistake we were letting our country make, and for nine months my brother spread the word and rallied support and made several trips to DC to attend protests and conferences. We were activists, and we were proud. My own father came to question the coming war, and soon after that he came to despise the very idea of it. And then, one night in March, we got the word. Bombs were falling over Baghdad.
It was such an intense moment of agony and defeat. I say this completely aware of the irony in a US civilian making such a statement about the destruction of homes and families. It was nothing for me compared to the death and destruction that the war caused, nothing compared to the sacrifice that our soldiers made on foreign soil and in unfriendly skies. Regardless of your take on the war, tragedy struck that night in March, tragedy for human beings overseas and at home. And for those of us who did not support the war, it seemed like such a waste. We had worked so hard to stop it, and in the end we had failed. The one thing that kept me going that night was remembering that history would tell the story of millions all over the world who stood up against it and continued to stand up long after the war began.
Last night was again such a night for my brother. North Carolina has become a second home for him for many reasons, and he has loved it like his own for several years. For me, too, this state has become an important part of my life. Its beauty is unmatched, and its progressiveness and idealism in the heart of the South is an inspiration to many. Maybe it’s because we’re from Memphis, but the wooded mountains and the open mentality have gone a long way to win us over. As Ryan Adams so beautifully sang, ‘Tennessee’s a brother to my sister Carolina…’, and I couldn’t say it better myself.
It was a shock to me to hear about Amendment 1 being on the primary ballot in North Carolina this year. The state already had a law against gay marriage, just as the rest of the southern states do, but now it was up for its own amendment to the state constitution. I was not aware, as I am now, that 29 other states already had a similar constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Leading up to the vote, my brother campaigned in absentia from California, while friends of his spread the word to people all over the state to come out and vote against. Some even went to the polls to talk to people about what this amendment would mean for them. According to one girl, most people admitted they didn’t know what the amendment was about, just that it involved gay marriage. They would not listen when she and her friends tried to tell them that there was more to it than that.
This is what people saw when they looked at their primary ballots yesterday:
Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.
Sounds pretty straightforward. Nothing new, just the typical statement that is made to ensure that no gay marriages happen. Let’s look past the issue of homosexuality for a moment, though, and focus on what this new amendment actually means. By adopting this amendment, North Carolina is invalidating civil unions and domestic partnerships. Okay, that really only affects gays still, right? Wrong. It affects anyone who, for whatever reason, does not wish to marry the person they cohabitate with. The internet is filled with articles you can peruse at your leisure, and a quick search of ‘Amendment 1 North Carolina’ will take you there, but the information that is the scariest involves the rights of domestic partners and their children. No longer legally united, women who have rights to protection under the law against spousal abuse find themselves adrift. Cohabitating couples have no legal recourse to disputes over finances or property. A man or woman who is covered under the insurance of his or her domestic partner, as enshrined by current NC law, is no longer assured that they will continue to be covered now. If you’re thinking that it is a gay issue, that’s only the start. If you think that it only affects people who live in sin, think about the children who no longer have insurance through their mother’s domestic partner. It affects many more people than you thought.
It is so wide-ranging, in fact, that one of the amendment’s original supporters, North Carolina Representative Jim Crawford, urged people not to vote for it yesterday. He advised the state that he himself would not be voting for it because ‘I think it goes too far.’ And yet, it passed. It is indeed a dark day for the South.
But now we really should return to gay marriage itself. Let’s play a game. Let’s look at the question of gay marriage from the perspective of people who don’t feel it should be allowed. Forget about church versus state and what this country was founded on, forget that you don’t believe homosexuality is a choice. To be fair, we’ll leave the Old Testament out of it, too. Just for funsies, let’s look at one of the central arguments against gay marriage, and against gay sex in general: it’s just not natural.
I myself have noticed something horrifying. No other animal does it in the missionary position. As we all know, the missionary position is really the only way to have sex. The Bible doesn’t say this, but church leaders have, so we’ll just go with it. Unfortunately, it seems like ‘doggy-style’ is not just for canines, but for just about every species on the planet that engages in intercourse. It’s almost like missionary position sex isn’t natural. Uh-oh. We’ve made a huge mistake. Cosmopolitan had it right all along: we’re doing it wrong! It’s contrary to the rest of nature, just like gay sex. I guess we’d better add it to the list of things that are perverse.
‘WAIT!’ you exclaim, breath laboured and fingers bruised from your hasty internet search. ‘Humans aren’t the only ones who use the missionary position!’ Ah? Do tell. Bonobo, you say? And gorillas? And armadillos? Good enough for me. Missionary can stay in. As long as no animals engage in homosexual behaviour, I think we’re good, and since animals only have sex for procreation, as is natural, after all, there should be no worry that…I’m sorry, what? There are? I don’t believe you. I’ve never seen it. Well, no, I’ve never seen a bonobo at all, actually. What is…is it ‘bonobo’? Am I saying that right? Probably some kind of bird. A primate? Well, but surely not a major primate…they look like hairy humans? Sheesh. Gorillas can be gay, too? Okay, but what about ARMADILLOS? Ha, didn’t think so! Oh, there’s a list? Of animals that show homosexual behaviour? A long list? Well, I’d sure like to see it.
Oh, a Wikipedia article! Well, then it must be true!
Alright, enough of that. I suppose what I’m trying to get at here is the basic argument that homosexual sex isn’t natural. It’s pretty clear that it is. Many animals, humans included, like getting physical with the same sex. If it’s natural enough for them, why isn’t it natural enough for us? One of the arguments that is most used is that homosexual recreation cannot lead to procreation, and yet we see that there are still plenty of black swans, mallards, sheep, giraffes and yes, even bonobo.
But what is natural? Don’t we humans basically live according to nature’s guidelines? I mean, we walk on two legs, that’s kind of weird, I guess. I suppose we cook our food, wear dead plants and animals on our bodies for warmth and adornment, ferment alcohol, construct locomotion devices, build our own shelters…
And yes, I haven’t forgotten birds and wasps and beavers and all of the other splendid creatures that build shelters for themselves. I think there are even creatures who, although they don’t ferment their own alcohol, know where to find rotten fruit that gets them wasted. Oh yes, they are shrews. So there you go.
The point to all of this is that you can take most any argument against homosexuality and show that, in the end, it just doesn’t make sense. It comes down to one person, or a group of people, not liking it. Whether it is due to deep-rooted fears about their own latent homosexuality or not, fear is ultimately what drives this antagonism. Fear that homosexuals getting married will lead to the breakdown of marriage itself, fear that homosexuality might spread if it’s not contained, fear that God will punish us if we don’t do everything we can to quash anything and everything homosexual. But what we’re forgetting in all of this is that God loves people. He loves everyone. He said so! He hates sin, sure, but that doesn’t stop people from having premarital sex, getting divorced, disobeying their parents, doing anything but worshiping on the Sabbath, having that extra helping of mashed potatoes, checking out that guy/girl next door or wondering why our lazy neighbour gets to have a cool car when we work hard and ride the bus. In the end it’s about us, not about them.
And ultimately, my brother said it best this morning. Amendment 1 was never about anything that should have been voted on in the first place. Amendment 1 is an affront to civil rights. This country has fought long and hard to show that it is tolerant, against a whole mess of history to the contrary, and we’ve come a long way. Being from the South, I’m especially sensitive to the civil rights issue, and I think we have shown great progress over the years. But yesterday was a step backwards, among many.
Democracy and our right to vote and decide how our government is run is a beautiful thing, and yesterday was a corruption of that right. We have the right to tell the government what it can and can’t do. We do not have the right to tell other people that they cannot do the same things we can because they’re different. Born-gay or not, they’re gay! It’s time we grew up and dealt with the fact that not everybody feels the same way we do. I don’t like country music, but I have lots of friends who do. I don’t even get upset when they play it around me. Know why? Because I respect their choices. I have friends who have different racial backgrounds and cultures. Do I think they should use a different bathroom than I do? I have friends who are of different religions. Do I worship their gods? And I have friends who are gay. Am I therefore gay? No. Is this making any sense?
I think that every human is afforded certain inalienable rights, and a few of those are the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Hint: I’m not the first person to say those things. Who am I to decide what happiness is for someone else? Democracy doesn’t mean we get to make laws against things we don’t like. If it did, Justin Beiber would be out of a job (those teenyboppers can’t vote, y’all!). So ultimately, as my brother wisely said this morning, civil rights are not up for debate in my country. I live in a place that accepts people, even if they’re different, and guess what? You live there, too.